McCrae was moved to the medical corps and stationed in Boulogne, France, in June 1915 where he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel, and placed in charge of medicine at the Number 3 Canadian General Hospital. He was promoted to the acting rank of Colonel on January 13, 1918, and named Consulting Physician to the British Armies in France. The years of war had worn McCrae down, however. He contracted pneumonia that same day, and later came down with cerebral meningitis. On January 28, 1918, he died at the military hospital in Wimereux and was buried there with full military honours. A book of his works, featuring "In Flanders Fields" was published the following year.
"In Flanders Fields" has attained iconic status in Canada, where it is a staple of Remembrance Day ceremonies and may be the most well known literary piece among English Canadians. It has an official French adaptation, entitled "Au champ d'honneur", written by Jean Pariseau and used by the Canadian government in French and bilingual ceremonies. In addition to its appearance on the ten-dollar bill, the Royal Canadian Mint has released poppy-themed quarters on several occasions. A version minted in 2004 featured a red poppy in the centre and is considered the first multi-coloured circulation coin in the world. Among its uses in popular culture, the line "to you from failing hands we throw the torch, be yours to hold it high" has served as a motto for the Montreal Canadiens hockey club since 1940.
McCrae's birthplace in Guelph, Ontario has been converted into a museum dedicated to his life and the war. In Belgium, the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, named after the poem and devoted to the First World War, is situated in one of Flanders' largest tourist areas.
Despite its enduring fame, "In Flanders Fields" is often ignored by academics teaching and discussing Canadian literature. The poem is sometimes viewed as an anachronism; It spoke of glory and honour in a war that has since become synonymous with the futility of trench warfare and the wholesale slaughter produced by 20th century weaponry. Nancy Holmes, professor at the University of British Columbia, speculated that its patriotic nature and usage as a tool for propaganda may have led literary critics to view it as a national symbol or anthem rather than a poem.
The red poppies that McCrae referred to had been associated with war since the Napoleonic Wars when a writer of that time first noted how the poppies grew over the graves of soldiers. The damage done to the landscape in Flanders during the battle greatly increased the lime content in the surface soil, leaving the poppy as one of the few plants able to grow in the region.
Inspired by "In Flanders Fields", American professor Moina Michael resolved at the war's conclusion in 1918 to wear a red poppy year-round to honour the soldiers who had died in the war. She also wrote a poem in response called "We Shall Keep the Faith". She distributed silk poppies to her peers and campaigned to have them adopted as an official symbol of remembrance by the American Legion. Madame E. Guérin attended the 1920 convention where the Legion supported Michael's proposal and was herself inspired to sell poppies in her native France to raise money for the war's orphans. In 1921, Guérin sent poppy sellers to London ahead of Armistice Day, attracting the attention of Field Marshal Douglas Haig. A co-founder of The Royal British Legion, Haig supported and encouraged the sale. The practice quickly spread throughout the British Empire. The wearing of poppies in the days leading up to Remembrance Day remains popular in many areas of the Commonwealth of Nations, particularly Great Britain, Canada, and South Africa, and in the days leading up to ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand.